For all of you who are caring for a dad or a mom with Alzheimer’s, and especially for hired caregivers, you’re only too familiar with how daunting it can be to keep your patient successfully occupied. The hours drag on each day, and every time you get the smile that makes you think you have crossed a milestone, you get a reversal. We therefore devote this article not so much to successful activities, but more so to the guidelines that can enhance your success when trying to keep your patient stimulated.
8 Guidelines to Give Caregivers a much Deserved Lift:
1. Are you reading the signals correctly? When you are caring for someone with AD, it is easy enough to misconstrue the signals. Some messages you can decipher easily, such as, for example, when they rub their hand on a table, meaning they want to wipe the table, so you just give them a cloth to do it with. Other times you may think that the activity you started is not working since you didn’t get a sign of “coming along”. When your patient has advanced Alzheimer’s, the mere fact of not moving away from the activity or continuing to hold your hand is clearly a sign that the activity is successful.
2. Trial and error: you keep learning what is best for seniors with Alzheimer’s, and frequently you find you are doing the wrong thing. The best thing to do is learn from the patient’s history what the patient liked to do in the past, indoors as well as outdoors. It is good for you to be talking to your patient as much as possible, and when you’re doing your housekeeping chores, involve the patient by telling them what you’re doing, emphasizing words like “sweeping” or “cooking” or “cleaning”, so that the next time you are doing those things, they can perhaps associate with the words.
3. Be flexible: The patient can still enjoy some of the activities that they enjoyed before their illness, whether it used to be music, reading or outdoor activities. You can reduce the patient’s agitation and aimless wandering by starting an activity and showing them how to participate. If they get stuck, you can either help them out or switch to another activity. If they get agitated, it may be that they’re afraid of something, so pave the way for the patient to change the activity.
4. Keep it light and keep it active: your sense of humor and lighthearted approach to obstacles can be the answer to your patient’s moments of frustration. Your patient needs to be engaged through conversation, asking them to help you, read the newspaper to you, or prepare things for you, such as clothes and linen that are ready to be pressed. And remember, one of the things your patient appreciated the most is your sense of humor and lighthearted approach to overcoming obstacles.
5. Address yourself to the patient’s senses: as your patient’s Alzheimer’s progresses and their mental abilities decline, they can turn from enjoying activities through their mental faculties to more so through their sensory faculties. What that means is that although your patient may still enjoy things they used to enjoy before they got ill, they may enjoy these now in a different way. For example, if your patient was a religious person and used to go to church regularly, they may still enjoy going to church now, though this time it would be because of the familiar feeling of being amongst people, and the sounds of the music and the pastor that the patient finds nonthreatening.
6. Getting a “resolution”: if your patient is suddenly concerned with something they are trying to do, it may not be sufficient to change the direction of the activity, or shift to something else altogether. The patient at times needs a resolution to what caused the concern, and simply moving away is frustrating. The thing to do is to acknowledge their concern by showing that you have heard them and agree with them before you shift the focus elsewhere.
7. Picking up on signs of physical issues: your patient may not be able to tell you that they’re having difficulties seeing or hearing, or that they’re getting tired unusually fast. These are signs and symptoms that you may have to pick up on and take care of. Naturally, you would change your routine and activities accordingly, a little at a time, trying to feel what your patient is still able to do.
8. Keep your eye on the process: remember, it’s the engagement -the process- that counts, not whether a chore is completed or not. Along with your vigilance and supervision, you should offer support when needed by showing the patient how to do something. Merely demonstrating how to get an activity going is good engagement that the patient may enjoy. Whether they then complete the task or not is truly immaterial.
Finally, it is good to keep in mind that your patient has good times and not-so-good times during the day. You could calibrate the more energy-requiring tasks to fall at the right time of day, and the less demanding tasks to fall, for example, after lunch. Good luck.